5G and the need to test more for less.

Updated: Jul 15, 2020

8 reasons why testing, reporting and assurance of the customer experience will change significantly with 5G rollouts.

New spectrum and technologies are poised to transform devices, industries, and our daily lives. A wide variety of applications will be implemented using 5G over the next two years. Initially, 5G will be deployed in high-band cellular spectrum and in fixed-wireless applications as well as industrial and venue settings, adding high capacity and low latency services. Here are eight reasons why testing, reporting and assurance of customer experience will change significantly alongside these advances.

1. Spectrum range: 5G, using both non-line-of-sight (NLOS) “Sub-6 GHz” and line-of-sight (LOS) “mmWave” bands require base stations to be closer to end users and IoT devices. High-frequency spectrum can come with much greater propagation limits and lower indoor penetration. For example, trials of 3.5 GHz spectrum indicate that its range falls to about 400 meters outdoors, which is much lower than the range of currently deployed spectra. This will require more testing to deliver a consistently superior experience.

2. Indoors and outdoors. Traditionally networks have been designed based on link budgets for outdoor coverage except to very urban environments. Industry 4.0 and mobile consumer scenarios such as gaming demand high levels of connectivity inside buildings, making indoor coverage as important as outdoors.

3. Remote control and automation: Test regimes change along with customer requirements. In a post-pandemic, carbon-conscious world, it is non-sensical to have people drive around in fuel-powered cars every time a new QoE test is required. Instead, a larger number of lower-cost devices are deployed, activated based on triggers, configured remotely, and tests are informed by machine learning.

4. ‘Best of breed’: 4G and 5G network densification is already happening now. Both indoor and outdoor applications and early deployments with LTE (5G Non-Stand Alone) produce a wide variety of deployment options. Various configurations and ‘best of breed’ supplier selections (i.e. different RAN access and Core suppliers) will require more testing to make sure that the customer experience is right, once all the pieces are working together.

5. Network iterations: It will take a few years to deliver the 5G coverage, capacity and performance needed to reach gigabit speeds and ultra-low latencies. Each iteration on improving the network performance through new releases must be accompanied by before-and-after testing to justify the investment and deliver real-world performance, i.e. taking into account natural coverage obstacles such as buildings, trees, and weather conditions.

6. Probe costs: Unattended stationary and mobile probes deployed in the field can get lost, stolen, damaged. Replacing a test device should not result in a 5-digit capital expense every time. If a higher number of probing devices is put in circulation, those devices must be a lot less expensive than conventional engineering test equipment, and sustainably re-used and recycled. [Ga3]

7. Device updates: Test devices will need life cycle management to reflect current and upcoming Operating System and Hardware configurations. Being a few releases behind can restrict performance, such as the inability to update software via a firmware flash or shorter battery life. Swap outs of devices in the field and/or remote upgrades are essential to keep up with the advances in network technology, operating systems and handsets.

8. Usage based pricing: There are peaks and troughs in test cycles as new roll-outs or network upgrades take place. We predict (and actively promote) that testing and reporting pricing schemes will evolve to take individual project scenarios and test cycles into account and offer usage-based pricing components.

In summary, testing, reporting and assurance of the customer experience is critical for adoption of 5G. It helps improve network performance, identify infrastructure investment needs, recognize trends, benchmark competitors, and fulfil regulatory requirements. The most meaningful way to score the user experience is at the point where the customer interacts with the network. Every place has a different connectivity profile, so more testing is sensible. However, this has historically been prohibitively expensive and complex to manage. SignalScore is changing that.

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